I’m sure I’m not alone in seeing my Netflix feed flooded with Korean content post-Squid Game. Korea has a thriving cinema industry that isn’t afraid of gratuitous violence or disturbing plots that question characters’ morals — and it’s capturing worldwide attention.
It’s easy to scroll past it all and think, ‘just give me something in English’.
But there is one new release that has already surpassed Squid Game as the streaming platform’s most watched series: Hellbound.
As far as shocking openers go, Netflix has given us some beauties – who can forget the first episode of Black Mirror, in which a fictional British Prime Minister was forced to do things to a pig that I can’t print – and Hellbound is up there with the best of them.
A man sits in a busy cafe, scared out of his wits, while a bunch of younger people argue about conspiracies of monsters attacking people in the streets.
He’s sweating buckets and he barely emits a sigh of relief before his predicted doom emerges. A trio of demonic golems burst through the door, beating him senseless before reducing his body to ash — end scene one.
It’s definitely not for kids.
These things look genuinely scary. If you put the Dungeons & Dragons monster manual in a blender, this is probably what would come out. Imagine the Michelin man crawled out of a volcano, come to punish the sinners of Seoul.
That’s sinners in the literal sense. In this alternate universe, angels approach those who have committed some wrongdoing and inform them of their impending doom. They even give the poor souls the exact time and date their end will come, as if to prolong the torture.
After the poor cafe customer has been ragdolled through the streets, we meet the local detectives who — like all good apocalypse movie cops — don’t believe the monsters are real, despite overwhelming evidence.
It’s upon their meeting with a cult leader that the real theme comes out. The crux of the series is a social commentary.
Have we as a society slipped into immoral ways?
And how far is too far to pull us back to the path of righteousness?
For Arrowhead, a group akin to QAnon fronted by an eccentric online streamer, violence is the obvious answer.
Its members regularly attack main characters opposed to the evangelical New Truth cult, which has been preaching an Old Testament morality, and are vindicated when the demonic smackdowns go viral.
As if the ethical conundrums weren’t hard enough to digest, the six-episode series is split into two acts. The last three episodes take place four years after the arrival of the demons.
We meet a new set of characters in a society which has almost come to accept the new normal. Arrowhead gangs roam the streets looking for sinners, beating them “for their own protection”.
With twists on top of turns, you really need to pay attention to this one, but the reward is well worth it. Just don’t go expecting a happy ending.
Much like Squid Game, the world of Hellbound is endlessly bleak, and leaves you with uncomfortable moral questions.